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California or The Ministry of Truth?

A new fake news policy in California calls into question the limits of how far government should go when it comes to deciding on matters of truth.

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By Mason Mohon | @mohonofficial

Due to recent fears over the spread of fake news, various state, local, and national governments, along with private organizations, have worked to halt further dissemination of false information.

The most recent of which is the California state government. SB-1424 outlines strategic plans for dealing with “false information” in the news realm. While this may seem like a good-intentioned piece of legislation meant to protect the marketplace ideas, intentions are not results.

The primary goal of the legislation is as follows:

(a) Any person who operates a social media Internet Web site with physical presence in California shall develop a strategic plan to verify news stories shared on its Internet Web site.

The way they will go about doing this is outlined in the (b) section of the legislation:

(b) The strategic plan shall include, but is not limited to, all of the following:
(1) A plan to mitigate the spread of false information through news stories.
(2) The utilization of fact-checkers to verify news stories.
(3) Providing outreach to social media users regarding news stories containing false information.
(4) Placing a warning on a news story containing false information.

There are many issues with this legislation, and it is an action outside of the boundaries of government authority.

The first problem with any legislation similar to this is that it gives government authority over the truth. Anyone who has read Orwell’s 1984 will wisely be skeptical of any method to do such a thing. When those who have a monopoly on violence are now the arbiters of truth, incentives are skewed in a way so that state power will only increase. As Rothbard said in Anatomy of the State:

For… acceptance [of the state], the majority must be persuaded by ideology that their government is good, wise and, at least, inevitable, and certainly better than other conceivable alternatives.

Any state will seek to make itself seem great in the eyes of the populous. Allowing for the state to have a say in what the news can and cannot sets a precedent that would allow it to take incremental steps and eventually sway all of the media in favor of its power (assuming it has not already).

The founders of the United States saw the media as a check on government. It is why we have freedom of the press embodied in the first amendment. They had good reason to do this, for the incentives for government do not pressure it to limits itself. An outside apparatus must limit it, one of which is the press.

It shouldn’t be the other way around.

Sub-point 2 requires organizations to use “fact-checkers.” The problem with this is that getting news startups have tight resources. A professional or state-approved “fact-checker” may be a drain on resources that will keep potential news companies out of the game. This decreases competition and increases the risk of monopoly.

That is not the only way that they “little guy” will be trampled upon. The “fake news” Trump and the MAGA crowd is upset with is astronomically different than that which a left-leaning government such as California’s will be upset with. While a Trumpian anti-fake news crusade would go after organizations like CNN, left-leaning fake news witchhunts are going to target alternative media sources, which tend to have fewer resources to defend themselves.

There is not going to be a nonbiased way of keeping the news real. Somebody is going to have an agenda, and that will be pushed. If you have doubts, ask yourself the question: Is the government of California really going to go after green or liberal media that is based in their state?

This legislation also intensifies the view of the state as a maternal entity. The government doesn’t think Californians are wise enough to discern between real and fake news, so it sweeps in and does it for them. While that should be insulting to all Californians, it also turns the state into a nanny of sorts. A nanny state causes individuals to throw their problems towards the government. People quite literally turn into grown-up babies.

Although many of the impacts of planks of this legislation seem far-fetched, it is a matter of the principle behind the matter and the precedent the legislation will set. When you expand government authority into a realm without any sort of proper limiting mechanisms, there is no reason to believe it will stop itself there.

The government has no incentive to limit itself, so we should be fighting back every time it tries to move an inch. Because if you give the state an inch, it will take a mile and half your paycheck.


Featured image source.

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